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Less than 10 years to retirement
Savings, allocation and resourcefulness can get you there.
March 30, 2005: 4:52 PM EST
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – Maybe you need a new watch. Every time you look at yours, it says the same thing: the 11th hour.

At least that's how it feels, when you consider that you're planning (or hoping) to bid work adieu in less than 10 years.

So now you're wondering: a) if you should batten down the hatches on your portfolio to preserve savings; b) whether you've saved enough and c) if you haven't, what you can do to change that.

Good questions all. Here are some ideas that may help answer them.

Time to get conservative?

If you're a multimillionaire, you can afford to take as conservative an approach with your money as you'd like. You don't even need to be in stocks, if you don't want to be.

But if you're like most people, you're not swimming in assets. So you'll have to take some risk in the hopes of earning better returns on your investments.

And not just until retirement, but for many years afterwards. Not only do many retirees live off their portfolios for 20 years or more. Some wish to leave money to their heirs.

All that suggests a healthy exposure to stocks, said certified financial planner Doug Flynn.

For those with a moderate risk tolerance, he suggests a portfolio of 60 percent stocks and 40 percent bonds.

For the equity portion, Flynn recommends putting about 33 percent in large-cap stocks, divided equally among a value fund, a growth fund and a blend fund.

Beyond that, he suggests investing about 9 percent of your money in each of the following areas: a mid-cap blend fund, a small-cap blend fund and a large-cap fund that invests in non-U.S. stocks.

Now's a good time, too, to pare back on company stock, if it accounts for more than 10 percent of your holdings.

For the fixed-income portion of your portfolio, Flynn recommends putting 8 percent of your money in each of the following five areas: a total-return bond fund, an inflation-protected bond fund, a short-term government bond fund, a floating-rate bond fund and a strategic-income fund.

If your 401(k) doesn't offer a floating-rate bond fund, split the money that you would have put into one evenly across the other bond components.

Or, if you're a more conservative investor, you might simply opt to put 20 percent of your money in a total-return bond fund and another 20 percent in a stable value fund, he said.

Am I on track to retire?

To figure out if you've saved enough, clarify your goals.

You're now in a position to make a very realistic assessment of the lifestyle and annual income you want in retirement.

Take into account all the potential sources of income besides your nest egg.

For instance, check your Social Security earnings statement, which will give you some indication of what your benefits are likely to be. And contact any former employers from whom you are owed a pension.

Also consider how your health costs will be paid for in retirement. Does your current employer offer health-care benefits to retirees? This is one area where your costs may eat up more than you anticipated.

Since making retirement projections can be a complex process, you might work with a fee-only certified financial planner to help you crunch the numbers specific to your situation.

How can I boost my savings?

If your current savings regimen won't provide you with the retirement you envisioned, you have a few options.

Play catch up. There are now increased contribution limits to tax-advantaged retirement plans for workers 50 and over.

In your 401(k), you can contribute up to $16,000 this year, $18,000 in 2005 and $20,000 in 2006. In your IRA, you can save up to $3,500 this year, $4,500 next year and $5,000 in 2006 and 2007.

Cut spending. You've got to find the extra savings somewhere. If you're set on retiring within 10 years, giving up some extras might not seem like such a sacrifice if it's for a desired goal.

Postpone retirement. Working longer will let you add much-needed savings to your nest egg.

Be more aggressive. If you are willing to take more risk with your investments in the hopes of generating higher returns, you might boost the equity portion of your portfolio, Flynn said. But if that doesn't sit well with you, don't do it.

Downsize. If you have an asset that's appreciated greatly, such as a house, now may be the time to sell. But only do so if you'll realize a net gain that can be applied to your retirement savings.

If you want to keep your house, but still need the cash, Flynn said, you might consider a reverse mortgage as a last resort.  Top of page

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